Most therapists have encountered at least one client who truly challenged and perplexed them. And sometimes, regardless of how skilled we are, these clients can radically redefine the way we regard the field of therapy and the way we practice.
For couples and family therapist Susan Johnson, the developer of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), this client was her first, and came at a time when she describes herself as woefully underprepared. Still, this client experienced a touching—and humorous—therapeutic breakthrough that Johnson says has resonated throughout her therapy career.
In her storytelling session from the 2018 Networker Symposium, she shares this story and explains why, for her, it captures the “essence” of our work as therapists.
As Johnson explains, her work with Lee shows how you don’t need fancy techniques to bring about change, nor does change need to come about in session. It might not even seem like a possibility in the near future. But sometimes, the seemingly simplest gestures—a hand on the shoulder or a comforting few words that let the client know you’ll be with them every step of the way—can make all the difference.
“Therapy is a dance,” Johnson says. “And just like a dance, the essense of therapy is not the steps, the techniques, the fancy tricks, the moves. The essence of therapy is the connection between you and your client. The essence of therapy is attunement, attunement, attunement.”
Dr. Sue Johnson is an author, clinical psychologist, researcher, professor, popular presenter and speaker and a leading innovator in the field of couple therapy and adult attachment. Sue is the primary developer of Emotionally Focused Couples and Family Therapy (EFT), which has demonstrated its effectiveness in over 30 years of peer-reviewed clinical research. Sue Johnson is founding Director of the International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy (ICEEFT) and Distinguished Research Professor at Alliant University in San Diego, California, and Professor, Clinical Psychiatry at the University of British Columbia, Canada, as well as Professor Emeritus, Clinical Psychology, at the University of Ottawa, Canada. Dr. Johnson is the author of numerous books and articles including Attachment Theory in Practice: EFT with Individuals, Couples and Families (2019) The Practice of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy: Creating Connection (3rd edition, 2019) and Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy with Trauma Survivors (2002).